Compline ( KOM-plin), also known as Complin, Night Prayer, or the Prayers at the End of the Day, is the final church service (or office) of the day in the Christian tradition of canonical hours, which are prayed at fixed prayer times. The English word is derived from the Latin completorium, as compline is the completion of the waking day. The word was first used in this sense about the beginning of the 6th century by St. Benedict in his Rule (Regula Benedicti; hereafter, RB), in Chapters 16, 17, 18, and 42, and he even uses the verb compleo to signify compline: "Omnes ergo in unum positi compleant" ("All having assembled in one place, let them say compline"); "et exeuntes a completorio" ("and, after going out from compline")... (RB, Chap. 42).
In Western Christianity, Compline tends to be a contemplative office that emphasizes spiritual peace. In most monasteries it is the custom to begin the "Great Silence" after compline, during which the whole community, including guests, observes silence throughout the night until after the Terce the next day.
From the time of the early Church, the practice of seven fixed prayer times have been taught; in Apostolic Tradition, Hippolytus instructed Christians to pray seven times a day "on rising, at the lighting of the evening lamp, at bedtime, at midnight" and "the third, sixth and ninth hours of the day, being hours associated with Christ's Passion."
The origin of compline has given rise to considerable discussion among liturgists. In the past, general opinion ascribed the origin of this liturgical hour to St. Benedict, in the beginning of the 6th century. But Jules Pargoire and A. Vandepitte trace its source to Saint Basil. Vandepitte states that it was not in Cæsarea in 375, but in his retreat in Pontus (358-362), that Basil established compline, which hour did not exist prior to his time, that is, until shortly after the middle of the 4th century. Dom Plaine also traced the source of compline back to the 4th century, finding mention of it in a passage in Eusebius and in another in St. Ambrose, and also in John Cassian. These texts bear witness to the private custom of saying a prayer before retiring to rest. If this was not the canonical hour of compline, it was certainly a preliminary step towards it. The same writers reject the opinion of Paulin Ladeuze and Dom Besse who believe that compline had a place in the Rule of St. Pachomius, which would mean that it originated still earlier in the 4th century.
It might be possible to reconcile these different sentiments by stating that if it be an established fact that St. Basil instituted and organized the hour of compline for the East, as St. Benedict did for the West, there existed as early as the days of St. Cyprian and Clement of Alexandria the custom of reciting a prayer before sleep, in which practice we find the most remote origin of our compline.
It is generally thought that the Benedictine form of compline is the earliest western order, although some scholars, such as Dom Plaine, have maintained that the hour of compline as found in the Roman Breviary at his time, antedated the Benedictine Office. These debates apart, Benedict's arrangement probably invested the hour of compline with the liturgical character and arrangement which were preserved in the Benedictine Order, and largely adopted by the Roman Church. The original form of the Benedictine Office, lacking even an antiphon for the psalms, is much simpler than its Roman counterpart, resembling more closely the Minor Hours of the day.
Saint Benedict first gave the Office the basic structure by which it has come to be celebrated in the West: three psalms (4, 90, and 133) (Vulgate numbering) said without antiphons, the hymn, the lesson, the versicle Kyrie eleison, the benediction, and the dismissal (RB, Chaps. 17 and 18).
The Roman Office of compline came to be richer and more complex than the simple Benedictine psalmody. A fourth psalm was added, In te Domine speravi (Psalm 30 in Vulgate). And perhaps at a fairly late date was added the solemn introduction of a benediction with a reading (based perhaps on the spiritual reading which, in the Rule of St. Benedict, precedes compline: RB, Chap. 42), and the confession and absolution of faults. This is absent from parallel forms, such as that of Sarum.
The distinctive character and greater solemnity of the Roman form of compline comes from the responsory, In manus tuas, Domine ("Into Thy hands, O Lord"), with the evangelical canticle Nunc Dimittis and its anthem, which is particularly characteristic.
The hour of compline, such as it appeared in the Roman Breviary prior to the Second Vatican Council, may be divided into several parts, viz. the beginning or introduction, the psalmody, with its usual accompaniment of antiphons, the hymn, the capitulum, the response, the Nunc dimittis, the prayer, and the benediction.
By way of liturgical variety, the service of initium noctis may also be studied in the Celtic Liturgy, such as it is read in the Antiphonary of Bangor, its plan being set forth by Warren and by Bishop (see Bibliography, below).
In the breviary of 1974 Roman Catholic Liturgy of the Hours, compline is divided as follows: introduction, an optional examination of conscience or penitential rite, a hymn, psalmody with accompanying antiphons, scriptural reading, the responsory, the Canticle of Simeon, concluding prayer, and benediction. The final antiphon to the Blessed Virgin Mary (Salve Regina, etc.) is an essential part of the Office.
The office of Compline is included in the various Lutheran books of worship and prayer books (along with Matins/Morning Prayer and Vespers/Evening Prayer), such as For All the Saints: A Prayer Book for and by the Church. In some Lutheran Churches compline may be conducted by a layperson.
In the Anglican tradition, compline was originally merged with Vespers to form Evening Prayer in the Book of Common Prayer. The ECUSA's Book of Offices of 1914, the Church of England's proposed Prayer Book of 1928, and the Anglican Church of Canada's Prayer Book of 1959, and also the 2004 version of the Book of Common Prayer for the Church of Ireland, restored a form of compline to Anglican worship. Several contemporary liturgical texts, including the American 1979 Book of Common Prayer, the Anglican Church of Canada's Book of Alternative Services, and the Church of England's Common Worship, provide modern forms of the service. A traditional form is provided in the Anglican Service Book (1991). The Common Worship service consists of the opening sentences, the confession of sins, the psalms and other Bible lessons, the canticle of Simeon, and prayers, including a benediction. There are authorised alternatives for the days of the week and the seasons of the Christian year. As a public service of worship, like Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer, compline may be led by a layperson, quite similar to Lutheran use.
Both forms include a canon, typically those found Octoechos to the Theotokos, although alternative canons are used on certain forefeasts, afterfeasts and days during the Paschaltide. A further exception is on days when the service to the saint(s) of the day is displaced by, e.g., by a newly canonized or locally venerated saint (or icon), the displaced canon is used and after that are inserted the stichera prescribed for vespers.
The Office always ends with a mutual asking of forgiveness. In some traditions, most notably among the Russians, Evening Prayers (i.e., Prayers Before Sleep) are read at the end of compline. It is an ancient custom, practiced on the Holy Mountain and in other monasteries, for everyone present at the end of compline to venerate the relics and icons in the church, and receive the priest's blessing.
Small compline is prescribed for most nights of the year. It is presided over by a single priest without a deacon.
The service is composed of three Psalms (50, 69, 142), the Small Doxology, the Nicene Creed, the Canon followed by Axion Estin, the Trisagion, Troparia for the day, Kyrie eleison (40 times), the Prayer of the Hours, the Supplicatory Prayer of Paul the Monk, and the Prayer to Jesus Christ of Antiochus the Monk. Following these are the mutual forgiveness and final blessing by the priest and the priest's reciting of a litany.
Before an all-night vigil, compline in the Greek tradition precedes great vespers, being read during the great incensing, while in Russian tradition it simply follows little vespers.
Great Compline is a penitential office which is served on the following occasions:
Unlike Small Compline, Great Compline has portions of the service which are chanted by the Choir and during Lent the Prayer of St. Ephraim is said with prostrations. During the First Week of Great Lent, the Great Canon of Saint Andrew of Crete is divided into four portions and read on Monday through Thursday nights.
Due to the penitential nature of Great Compline, it is not uncommon for the priest to hear Confession during the service.
Great Compline is composed of three sections, each beginning with the call to prayer, "O come, let us worship...":
In the Syriac Orthodox Church and Indian Orthodox Church, as well as the Mar Thoma Syrian Church (an Oriental Protestant denomination), the office of Compline is also known as Soutoro and is prayed at 9 pm using the Shehimo breviary.
There are two offices in the daily worship of the Armenian Apostolic Church which are recited between sundown and sleep: the Peace Hour and the Rest Hour. These are two distinct services of communal worship. It is the usage in some localities to combine these two services, with abbreviations, into a single service.
The Peace Hour (Armenian: khaghaghakan zham) is the office associated with compline in other Christian liturgies.
In the Armenian Book of Hours, or Zhamagirk`, it is stated that the Peace Hour commemorates the Spirit of God, but also the Word of God, "when he was laid in the tomb and descended into Hades, and brought peace to the spirits."
Outline of the Peace Hour
If the Song of Steps is recited: Blessed is our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen. Our Father ... Amen.; Psalm 34:1-7: I have blessed the Lord at all times (awrhnets`its` zT?r)...; Glory to the Father (Always with Now and always ... Amen.; And again in peace let us pray to the Lord...; Blessing and glory to the Father ... Amen.; Song of Steps: Psalm 120:1-3: In my distress I cried (I neghout`ean imoum)...; Glory to the Father...
If the Song of Steps is not said: Blessed is our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen. Our father ... Amen; Psalm 88:1-2 God of my salvation (Astouats p`kkout`ean imoy)...; Glory to the Father...; And again in peace let us pray to the Lord ...; Blessing and glory to the Father ... Amen.; Peace with all.
In either case the service continues here: Psalms 4, 6, 13, 16, 43, 70, 86:16-17; Glory to the Father...; Song: Vouchsafe unto us (Shnorhea mez)...; Glory to the Father...; Acclamation: At the approach of darkness (I merdzenal erekoyis)...; Proclamation: And again in peace ... Let us give thanks to the Lord (Gohats`arouk` zTearn?)...; Prayer: Beneficent Lord (T?r Barerar)...; Psalm 27 The Lord is my light (T?r loys im)...; Glory to the Father...; Song: Look down with love (Nayats` sirov)...; Acclamation: Lord, do not turn your face (T?r mi dartzouts`aner)...; Proclamation: And again in peace ... Let us beseech almighty God (Aghach`ests`ouk` zamenakal)...; Prayer: Bestowing with grace (Shnorhatou bareats`)...
On non-fasting days the service ends here with: Blessed is our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen. Our father ... Amen.
On fasting days continue here: Psalm 119; Glory to the Father-; Hymn: We entreat you (I k`ez hayts`emk`)...
During the Great Fast: Evening Chant (varies); Acclamation: To the spirits at rest (Hogvovn hangouts`elots`)...; Proclamation: And again in peace ... For the repose of the souls (Vasn hangouts`eal)...; Lord, have mercy (thrice); Prayer: Christ, Son of God (K`ristos Ordi Astoutsoy)...; Blessed is our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen. Our father... Amen."
The Rest Hour (Armenian: hangstean zham) is celebrated after the Peace Hour, and is the last of the offices of the day. It may be considered communal worship before sleep. It bears some resemblance in content to compline in the Roman Rite.
In the Armenian Book of Hours it is stated in many manuscripts that the Rest Hour commemorates God the Father, "that he protect us through the protecting arm of the Onlybegotten in the darkness of night."
Outline of the Rest Hour: Blessed is our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen. Our Father ... Amen.; Psalm 43:3-5: Lord, send your light and your truth (Arak`ea T?r)...; Glory to the Father...; And again in peace let us pray to the Lord ...; Blessing and glory to the Father ... Amen.; Psalms 119:41-56, 119:113-120, 119:169-176, 91, 123, 54, Daniel 3:29-34, Luke 2:29-32, Psalms 142:7, 86:16-17, 138:7-8, Luke 1:46-55; Glory to the Father...; Acclamation: My soul into your hands (Andzn im I tzers k`o)...; Proclamation: And again in peace ... Let us beseech almighty God (Aghach`ests`ouk` zamenakaln)...; Prayer: Lord our God (T?r Astouats mer)...
Ending: Psalm 4; Pre-gospel sequence; Gospel: John 12:24ff; Glory to you, our God; Proclamation: By the holy Cross (Sourb khach`ivs...)...; Prayer: Protect us (Pahpannea zmez)...; Blessed is our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen. Our Father ... Amen.
Ending during Fasts: Acclamation: We fall down before you (Ankanimk` araji k`o)...; Meditation Twelve of St. Gregory of Narek; Meditation 94 of St. Gregory of Narek; Meditation 41 of St. Gregory of Narek; Prayer: In faith I confess (Havatov khostovanim)... by St. Nerses the Graceful; Acclamation: Through your holy spotless and virgin mother (Vasn srbouhvoy)...; Proclamation: Holy Birthgiver of God (Sourb zAstouatsatsinn), ,; Prayer: Accept, Lord (Unkal, T?r)...; Blessed is our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen. Our Father ... Amen.
Peterson quotes a passage from the Acts of Hipparchus and Philotheus: "In Hipparchus's house there was a specially decorated room and a cross was painted on the east wall of it. There before the image of the cross, they used to pray seven times a day ... with their faces turned to the east." It is easy to see the importance of this passage when you compare it with what Origen says. The custom of turning towards the rising sun when praying had been replaced by the habit of turning towards the east wall. This we find in Origen. From the other passage we see that a cross had been painted on the wall to show which was the east. Hence the origin of the practice of hanging crucifixes on the walls of the private rooms in Christian houses. We know too that signs were put up in the Jewish synagogues to show the direction of Jerusalem, because the Jews turned that way when they said their prayers. The question of the proper way to face for prayer has always been of great importance in the East. It is worth remembering that Mohammedans pray with their faces turned towards Mecca and that one reason for the condemnation of Al Hallaj, the Mohammedan martyr, was that he refused to conform to this practice.
Hippolytus in the Apostolic Tradition directed that Christians should pray seven times a day - on rising, at the lighting of the evening lamp, at bedtime, at midnight, and also, if at home, at the third, sixth and ninth hours of the day, being hours associated with Christ's Passion. Prayers at the third, sixth, and ninth hours are similarly mentioned by Tertullian, Cyprian, Clement of Alexandria and Origen, and must have been very widely practised. These prayers were commonly associated with private Bible reading in the family.
Clement of Alexandria noted that "some fix hours for prayer, such as the third, sixth and ninth" (Stromata 7:7). Tertullian commends these hours, because of their importance (see below) in the New Testament and because their number recalls the Trinity (De Oratione 25). These hours indeed appear as designated for prayer from the earliest days of the church. Peter prayed at the sixth hour, i.e. at noon (Acts 10:9). The ninth hour is called the "hour of prayer" (Acts 3:1). This was the hour when Cornelius prayed even as a "God-fearer" attached to the Jewish community, i.e. before his conversion to Christianity. it was also the hour of Jesus' final prayer (Matt. 27:46, Mark 15:34, Luke 22:44-46).
Not only the content of early Christian prayer was rooted in Jewish tradition; its daily structure too initially followed a Jewish pattern, with prayer times in the early morning, at noon and in the evening. Later (in the course of the second century), this pattern combined with another one; namely prayer times in the evening, at midnight and in the morning. As a result seven 'hours of prayer' emerged, which later became the monastic 'hours' and are still treated as 'standard' prayer times in many churches today. They are roughly equivalent to midnight, 6 a.m., 9 a.m., noon, 3 p.m., 6 p.m. and 9 p.m. Prayer positions included prostration, kneeling and standing. ... Crosses made of wood or stone, or painted on walls or laid out as mosaics, were also in use, at first not directly as objections of veneration but in order to 'orientate' the direction of prayer (i.e. towards the east, Latin oriens).
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